CHESTER – Chester Charter Scholars Academy’s defensive performance was perplexing Thursday evening.
It would be hard to say the Sabers were struggling in that department through three quarters, having turned visiting Christian Academy over 14 times. But once the Crusaders got the ball over mid-court, things went south for Chester Charter, TCA shooting 63 percent from the field. In the third quarter alone, the Crusaders were 8-for-11 from the field, repelling several Sabers salvos to get the game under control.
Not until the fourth quarter, with a little adjustment and a lot more focus, did Chester Charter finally accomplish that.
A runner by Jaylen Williams put the Sabers up for good with two minutes to play, and the defense buckled down to deny TCA’s late attempts to get even in a 65-60 decision in a battle of District 1 Class A squads.
Doubling down on defense – and doubling out on shooters on the perimeter – the Sabers (16-3) stemmed the tide of TCA’s offense. They created 20 turnovers, which was great. But it wasn’t until holding the Crusaders to a 3-for-7 shooting performance in the fourth quarter that they could back their open-court intensity with half-court execution.
“We’ve just got to come together as a team,” said Williams, who scored a game-high 18 points. “Everybody’s got to get to a certain spot on defense, so really it’s just communicating with each other, having each other’s back. That’s what we preach all the time.”
TCA (7-12) was firing early. The Crusaders led by seven twice in the second quarter and by two at half. Even when Chester Charter had an answer, like a 6-0 run early in the third, the Crusaders didn’t shrink. They led 45-38 late in the third before a 7-0 CCSA run, punctuated by Williams getting into the lane, tied it at 45.
The Crusaders broke down both zone and man-to-man looks. They were 6-for-12 from 3-point range through three, led by Jabril White going 3-for-6 for 11 points. Hakim Patterson and Sir Guy Epps added two makes each.
But Chester Charter started guarding the 3-point line tighter, and the increased energy from a deeper rotation made each TCA pass that much more harried, leading to six turnovers in the fourth.
“In that fourth quarter, they really put the pressure on as far as double-teaming us off the screens, and we weren’t prepared for that,” Patterson said. “They didn’t do it the whole game, and in the fourth quarter, they started to do that and we weren’t prepared.”
Patterson, a Cardinal O’Hara transfer, led TCA with 15 points. Epps and Joseph Graves supplied 14 each, Graves adding five rebounds and seven assists. White had a team-best six rebounds. Much of the production came with Graves attacking seams in the defense – he had four and-1s at the rim – or kicking out to shooters.
“We try and move the ball and get open shots,” Graves said. “We try to be unselfish in this game, and everyone was knocking down shots when we passed it to them, so it was working out.”
Even when CCSA threatened to take a stranglehold on the game, TCA had an answer. Calvin Lewis hit a 3-pointer with three minutes left to put the Sabers up 54-53. But two free throws from Epps tied it up a minute later. A second-chance bucket by Jabryl Bennett, catching the rebound and tapping it home off glass all in one motion, put CCSA up four, but a Patterson triple answered immediately.
The Crusaders ran out of steam and time. Williams paired his 18 points with five assists. Many of those found Azarhis Smith in the post, the big scoring 14 points and grabbing eight boards. Chester Charter had 16 assists on 25 made baskets.
“Against the zone, you’ve always got to want to move the ball,” Williams said. “If you just keep the ball stagnant, you aren’t going to get any offensive flow. What’s best for us, we’ve got bigs down there, let’s see if he can get down there and give him the ball and let him eat.”
Kevin Miller endured a 2-for-11 shooting night from deep to provide 10 points, including two third-quarter triples, and Samaad Powell had eight points and seven boards.
The Sabers entered ranked first in District 1 Class A. They could end up meeting the third-seeded Crusaders with a district crown on the line, though both would be in states at that point, the district sending two if its five teams to the too-big dance.
As an independent school, CCSA’s aspirations lay in states. Proving its mettle on an evening like Thursday could pay off down the road.
“They (TCA) showed a good fight and how we’ve got to fight hard,” Williams said. “It’s always good to play a game like that, a tough game, especially heading into playoffs. It shows if we’re going to fight and if we’ve really got that heart.”